Image by xurhx on pixabay
Author: Jonathan Collé
“Come on Lucy! Come greet your new house!”
She wasn’t sulking yet, but was considering whether she should start.
Seated on the backseat of the family’s car, Lucy stared at the big three-story house her mother was pointing at with a grin. It was a big, imposing complex, with a small garden which no one seemed to care for or love, a small patch of grass that was there for decoration and no more. The house itself was differently decorated at each level, but for the empty 2nd floor: their new home. Presently, a small head bobbed out of one of the balconies on the 3rd floor: an angry red little face with blonde hair, which Lucy felt she would soon come to meet, force-greet, and despise.
“Lucy! Come on!”
Lucy sighted and got out of her car. Holding her little pink backpack close, she watched the big house some more: it was intimidating. Pretty, perhaps, but this trait she could not yet see; the house was too big for her comfort, too bright, too… new!
“I wanna go home”, muttered Lucy, holding back tears just as she knew a strong adult would. Her dad always said that adults must keep their feelings inside, and she tried to be an adult then… She sniffed, wiped the tears that hadn’t yet come and let the rest flow inside her. She could almost feel them at the back of her face, right beneath her skin. It was a sort of cold, a bristle, a sensation of dread which trickled down behind her cheeks to get stuck in her throat. She did want to go home.
“Oh, but you are home,” said her dad in a comforting tone. He was carrying a loaded cardboard box on which was inscribed “Living room”, and already puffing his cheeks over the weight. He had a tall, lean figure, a mouse-like face whose mustache could somewhat pass for being highly sophisticated whiskers. He must have sensed the hidden tears behind Lucy’s adult face, for he dropped the box and knelt to take his daughter’s hand.
“This is home now, dear Lucy. But don’t you worry. Everything will be all right. No, everything will be great! Come, I’ll show you around.”
And leaving the box and Lucy’s hopes behind, both dad and daughter walked to the front door. And entered.
The stars were shining bright above. The air smelled of up-turned dust, and other things… new smells she had yet to get used to. Lucy was in her bed. Or rather, Lucy was on her mattress. She had found her pajamas in a cardboard box, her toothbrush in another, but her bed still lay in pieces in some corner of the room. She watched it intently now; shadows move when no one’s looking. Everyone knows that. And she was convinced something was wrong. Something must be wrong. Why would the previous owners have moved from here if this house was perfect? But, thought Lucy, they had themselves moved from the country-side house, and she couldn’t possibly find a flaw in her old little rickety .
“Mummy, how long do we have to stay here?”
Lucy’s mum, a short-haired, freckled woman with big-rimmed glasses, placed a loud kiss on Lucy’s forehead, and did as all ignorant adults do when faced with a thoroughly astute and inquisitive child: she smiled, nodded, told her not to worry and repeated herself.
“Good night sweetheart.”
Adults were infuriating. It was a simple question, too! And the worse was that Lucy knew she couldn’t . She had tried.
“Could you please tell me what is eight times four?”
Lucy had smiled, nodded, and told Mrs Ayronn not to worry, before returning her attention to the drawing she was making. She had gotten grounded, and still couldn’t for the life of her understand why. Hypocrites.
“I bet if mum doesn’t tell me, it’s because she doesn’t know”, said poor Lucy to the shadows. She was feeling miserable. But they didn’t answer. They didn’t stir.
Lucy put her blankets over her head, to be protected and warm. But she soon remembered the shadows, and immediately resumed her watch.
A crack on the wooden floor.
Some dim metal-cling.
This new-house was definitely too scary!
The window again.
Two eyes, two big, full, yellow moons shot out from the dark to stare at her. Two bright yellow planets which shone outside, just behind the window.
They didn’t move. They stared.
And then they blinked.
Lucy almost screamed. But the blink was slow, almost deliberate, and out came a yawn: a big mouth with pearl white teeth stretched out, a pink tongue was cast out; yawn, and the whole vision disappeared as soon as it had come, engulfed with the night. The eyes again. Only the eyes remained, and they stared at Lucy with bold directness.
“It’s rude to stare”, said Lucy.
The two yellow planets seemed startled. They became a little wider, came a little closer.
“My, my, my” growled a low, deep voice. “How charming.”
“Who is it? said Lucy. She was scared, but only of really scary things, she told herself. She was scared of this new house, of her new life, of being away from her friends and being alone… but not of ghost-monsters who prowled at bedtime. Only little kids were afraid of those.
In truth, she was desperate for a friend.
“I’m Lucy. Do you want to come in, shadow-friend?”
The shadows laughed.
“I’m not your friend. And I’ll come in if I please. This is my territory, you know.”
Lucy’s mind started racing: was this the mystery of the previous owners? Had they disappeared, had they become shadow-friends? What were they still doing here? She was eager to find out.
“Is this house yours then?” she asked.
“Mine?” said the voice. Lucy was sure she heard it mutter “Humans!” with contempt. “No, it’s not mine, loud-walker. How can it be mine?”
“You did say it was your territory.” said Lucy.
“Hunting grounds, no more.” said the deep, hungry voice. And with this it was off. The two big yellow moons blinked once more, sharp white teeth flashed, licked by a pink tongue, only to disappear altogether.
“Wait!” said Lucy, scrambling out of bed “Don’t go shadow-friend!” But the beast had vanished without a noise.
Lucy looked out of her window, screening the roofs. The shadow was gone. She gazed at the buildings around her, stopping at the new-found lights. Laughter buzzed from a balcony above, and a faint smell of spices was carried by the wind unto her: Lucy took a deep breath, breathing in the strangeness around her. Another land. Another place. How would she ever call it home?
She went back to her bed, forgetting to watch the shadows. Her thoughts were on this shadow-friend, and this of course made her think of her friends, her real friends, those she had left at home, her real home. Crying inside-tears, Lucy fell asleep.
The next morning was full of surprises. Lucy woke up with the shining sun, and this made her mood bright in an instant. Birds were chirping outside her window. She greeted them with a wave before jumping out of her bed. Or so she thought; her bed still lay in heaps in a corner of the room, and when Lucy sprang out of the mattress she stumbled on the floor and fell. So much for a good morning. Still, she kept her spirits high and decided that she would do her very best to be nice, polite, and positive. After all, this wasn’t her parent’s fault, she thought. They looked as lost and tired as she was; it was her job, she decided, to care for her mum and dad’s mood.
“Morning mummy! Good morning dad!”
“Good morning Lucy. Well, you look especially cheerful today.” answered her dad with hope in his voice. He was struggling with his portable coffee machine, which he usually brought along when camping outside. He always insisted it made the best coffee, but coming home he immediately switched back to his regular electric brewer, with its comforting hum-buzz. It felt weird to Lucy not to hear this sound today.
“Lucy! What happened to your head?” said Lucy’s mum, coming in the kitchen. Lucy almost directed the question back to her mum, who had apparently abandoned make-up for harsh reality. Still, she bit her tongue and said nothing.
“Did you hurt yourself?”
“A little. But I’m OK now”, said brave Lucy.
“You look like a unicorn!” laughed her dad, and Lucy laughed too, to make him happy.
The breakfast was uneventful; in fact, it didn’t happen. Save for the blessed best coffee which her dad had managed to brew after some mild swearing, there was simply nothing on the table. Lucy didn’t want to complain; luckily, her stomach spoke with a loud rumble.
“There’s nothing in the fridge dear, but I’ll go and get some groceries with your dad,” explained her mum. “You just stay put and guard the house, OK?”
“OK,” said Lucy, thinking that if anyone came to take this house she would gladly let them.
Lucy then went to the balcony to watch her parents go.
“Goodbye!” she said cheerfully, waving away at her parents; but as soon as they turned the corner she felt the act was not needed. She fully accepted her sorrow, and said to no one in particular:
“I HATE it here. This stupid place is weird, and my head hurts and I miss my bed, and I’m hungry but what are we supposed to eat? There’s nothing but boxes and I don’t know where my toys are and I want to go home but home is…”
Lucy started sobbing, outside-tears which now flowed freely down her cheeks.
“Is it going to be rain, then?”
It was that low, deep, growl again. Lucy’s surprise caused the tears to vanish, and she looked around to see where the voice was hiding.
A sleek, splendid black cat with lustrous fur was napping on a nearby ledge, taking the sun in without a care in the world. Lucy approached him cautiously.
“You’re blocking the sun.” said the cat with scorn in his voice. He hadn’t opened his eyes.
“Oh, sorry. Wait! You talk!”
The cat remained still as a rock under Lucy’s shade. Eventually, Lucy moved, and the cat opened a lazy eye: it was a beautiful yellow moon, and Lucy’s heart raced.
“I’m not your friend, non-hunter. But I don’t like hearing humans cry. Not on such a morning. Why are you crying? Are you famished? The sun is shining.”
“You… you talk!”
“I hope you’ll be able to get over this soon. Of course, I talk. I’m a cat. I do everything better than humans do, so why wouldn’t I talk?”
“I’ve never hear a cat talk before.”
“Maybe you’re not very interesting to talk to.”
“You’re a grumpy cat, Shadow-friend.”
“I’m not your friend, furless.”
Lucy stayed quiet. She was very excited to find a talking cat, and was more determined than ever to become its friend.
“At least there’s one new thing which is pretty cool.” muttered Lucy as she let herself fall on the balcony’s concrete. She still felt a slight pang of sorrow, but as she concentrated on Shadow-friend she slowly started to dismiss the feeling. Watching the sun-drenched cat, she realized again that the sun was shining, and she tilted her head and closed her eyes to welcome its rays. Her eyes closed… She started to notice how the concrete had been heated by the sun, and how it made a little warm spot for her to bask in. Some time later, Shadow-friend’s voice was heard:
“Isn’t it great?”
Lucy thought she heard him purr.
“Yes,” she slowly answered, “Yes, you’re right.”
She stretched, happy, fully empty of anything but a fuzzy warm happiness which was brought by the sun.
“Sorrow melts with the sun. Unless you are hungry. Are you hungry, newcomer? You can’t possibly hunt with those paws.”
“No, Shadow-friend. I’m not truly hungry, just a little sad that’s all: everything here is so…new!”
“New is what you make of it.”
“That’s easy for you to say, you live here! Nothing’s new to you.”
“You are.” said the cat, and he shut his eyes once more.
Lucy thought about this for a while, letting the sun warm her face. Finally, she heard the apartment’s door open, and her parents come in. She got up to help store the groceries, not forgetting to say goodbye to the black cat.
“Goodbye Shadow-friend. Thank you for the talk.”
“I’m not your friend, dull-teeth.”
The rest of the morning was beautiful. Lucy and her parents ate a makeshift brunch while seated on cardboard boxes, with a cardboard table and paper napkins as plates. It was new, different. But it was fun, also, because she had decided it was going to be. She kept to small things, proceeded one step at a time, box after box, looking out for the sun from time to time. She found happiness in rediscovering little objects she had forgotten, laughed at the quaint aspects of this brand-new world. Once she had settled, so had the night, and she tiredly went to bed.
There, one last surprise awaited her: a horror to most, but as it was new, Lucy tried to consider it carefully, mastering her initial feeling, forging it into choice. She guessed who it came from. She decided she liked the new surprise in the end. She therefore slowly walked to the window’s ledge to pick up the nice little gift her friend had made: picking it up, she tried not to look disgusted at the dead gutted mouse whose blood slowly dripped unto her feet.
A little bump, a smooth thunk, a mere whisper in the night, announced Shadow-friend’s presence. Lucy looked at the open window to find the two yellow moons staring back at her.
“Thank you for the gift” said Lucy. “Though I feel bad for the mouse.”
“You feel bad for food?” the cat’s eyes seemed to shine with laughter.
“It’s not food! Well, I guess it is to you… but they’re living beings!”
“Of course they are. Typical non-hunter response.” scorned the cat. “I can only understand though – these paws! What can you catch with those? No wonder you can’t respect them; you can’t kill them.”
“You’ve got it the other way ‘round I think. I can’t kill them because I respect them.
“That’s what you say,” answered the cat, still on the windowsill. “But in truth you’re just a joyless killer.”
“You’re so clawless!” laughed the cat. “Have you ever caught a mouse trying to escape? Have you ever let it go just for the sheer pleasure of catching it again? Of course not.” Shadow-friend looked at the moon, then back at Lucy. “If you do not embrace who you are, how can you embrace the world? How can you understand it?”
Lucy didn’t know what to answer. This grumpy cat was staring deep into her soul.
“I’m just a kid!” she said defensively.
“And I’m just a cat.” said Shadow-friend. “And this is just a mouse. You like stating the obvious, don’t you?” He was evidently enjoying himself.
“Thank you.” she said again, picking the mouse with her hands. “It’s very kind.”
“Will you eat it then?”
Lucy stared back in horror. The cat bared his teeth in a broad grin.
“I’m just joking, meat-warmer. But I didn’t know what else to get you. I wanted you to feel welcome.”
“You’re a nice cat, aren’t you, grumpy cat?”
“Fur and claws” answered Shadow-friend. “If… you’re not having that.” he added, pointing the dead mouse with an extended claw.
“Of course!” said Lucy, with great relief. She went to place the mouse on the windowsill, and then thought better of it:
“Would you like to come to my… our, room?”
Noiselessly, the black shadow dropped down into Lucy’s room, the mouse still stuck in his jaws. He then paced until he found a spot, apparently better than all the other identical spots Lucy could see, and started to feast.
Lucy watched him eat with an ambiguous mixture of curiosity and disgust.
“I had a cousin who held your views,” said the cat after he saw her changing expression. “It was easy for him. He was well cared for, his feeders never forgot to fill his bowl, hence he never lacked anything. It was easy for him to judge. He didn’t need the hunt. In truth, it was the hunt which didn’t need him.”
Lucy sat down to listen to the ranting feline.
“Called me a murderer! He didn’t kill; I did. Simple as that. But the mouse I caught was free. He lived a mouse’s life to the very end!” at this the cat laughed, though Lucy was unsure why. “Can you say the same? That’s what I asked him. And he couldn’t answer! He didn’t know if his food had been free, or happy, if it was a good runner, if it could evade well: all he knew was that his food came from a box which the feeders filled from time to time using a bigger box. And he judged me.”
Shadow-friend’s dinner was cracking in his mouth and Lucy fell somewhat sick, but she couldn’t help empathizing with her friend now.
“I’m sure it was difficult to fight with your cousin over this.”
“Fight! That bloated thing?” Shadow-friend choked on his food. “Never!”
A little piece of the mouse’s tail was sprouting out of his mouth, and he slurped it with relish.
“But his ways are his ways. We didn’t argue, if that’s what you mean. His house was his territory, I had mine. He left me in peace and so did I. We discussed. Philosophy, you call it?”
“I guess,” said Lucy. “What’s your name, Shadow-friend?”
The black cat grinned. “I knew you were charming.”
“Why is that?” asked Lucy.
“A feeling, but deeper.”
“I know what instinct is. But I thought you said we shouldn’t trust our feelings.”
“I never said that.”
“You said new was what we wanted. But I felt sad. So I forgot it.”
“You should never forget your instinct!”
“But dad says….”
“You should embrace it! A feeling is neither good or bad. It is data. You do what you will with this information. It doesn’t mean reject it, or be scared, it means accepting it as your fact, and deciding your outcome.”
Lucy sat back, leaning against the bare walls of her room. Shadow-friend started to lick his paws.
“You still haven’t told me your name.”
“That’s true. But, you wouldn’t understand it.”
“Well, we cats can understand humans, and talk your way, but I’ve never heard of a girl who could speak cat!”
“Oh…” said Lucy, thinking a moment: “But until yesterday, I had never heard of a cat speaking human.”
“Very true!” said Shadow-friend, cheering. “Then, since you insist, here it is…” And he meowed with voluptuous glee. It was obviously meant to impress Lucy.
“What?” said she.
“I told you,” said Shadow-friend, sulking, “you wouldn’t know the difference between meow and meow.”
“Sorry”, said Lucy, meaning it. “Please, would you try again, just one more time?”
Shadow-friend took a moment, but cajoled by the pleading eyes of Lucy, he gave in:
“Of then. Here goes: my name is…” And he meowed again in that fleeting, joyful manner. Lucy listened attentively, thought for a moment, and then carefully meowed back.
“Hey! Not bad for a two-legger.” said the cat, grinning.
Then he yawned, and this made Lucy yawn. “Off to bed then.”
“Off to bed then.”
The black shadow jumped in a swift swoosh unto the window’s ledge, tail in balance.
“I’m not your friend… Lucy.”
There was silence.
“Yes you are.” Lucy replied stubbornly, her voice muffled underneath the bed’s cover.